Life

Iowa's pumpkin patches, haunted houses adapt to pandemic's limits

Katie Colony and Dean Colony, owners of Colony Pumpkin Patch in North Liberty, start planning for the fall season months in advance. This year, with the coronavirus pandemic, those plans were riddled with uncertainty.

“We’re thinking of the pumpkin patch year-round, even though we’re only open seven weeks or so,” Katie Colony said. “When we were putting pumpkin seeds in the ground in May, we were like, ‘Well, we have to keep moving ahead.’ ... In order for our farm to continue, we knew we had to keep going and find ways to make it safe.”

That means making some adjustments to how they operate this year’s fall family activities. They’ve spaced out things like picnic benches, added hand washing stations and removed some activities, like a corn sand box that couldn’t be easily sanitized. They are asking people to wear face masks when social distancing isn’t possible and are limiting capacity on the hay rack ride.

Hopefully, those things will allow people to still come out, safely, Colony said.

“We’re looking forward to having people out — we’ve seen and observed people are anxious to get outside and do things outdoors,” she said.

Haunted attractions adapt

How to have a safe Halloween season is on a lot of people’s minds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines listing low-, moderate- and high-risk activities for the holiday. The guidance says, as with other things, the lowest risk activities are having virtual parties and doing activities at home. Moderate risk includes visiting pumpkin patches or orchards “where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing. Another moderate risk activity is “Going to an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest where appropriate mask use is enforced, and people can remain more than 6 feet apart.”

The guidance goes on to say, “If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised.”

Circle of Ash co-owner Chelsea Haugh said they took COVID concerns seriously when planning their annual haunted attractions at the Linn County Fairgrounds this year.

“About 85 percent of our attractions are outdoors or have free-flowing air,” she said.

They will require face masks or shields for all customers and staff, have timed entrances to limit the number of people in the attractions and eliminated things like hanging curtains that multiple people would need to touch. They also will not have actors in any part of the attraction where they cannot maintain social distancing from guests or be behind a barrier. They also are requesting people buy tickets online. Guests will then wait in their cars and receive a text when it is time to enter the attraction.

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At Bloomsbury Farm in Atkins, they’ve also put timed entrances in place for the Scream Acres haunted attractions and are asking guests wear face coverings when inside attractions.

Events manager Sammy Petersen said the rest of Bloomsbury Farm is focused around outdoor activities, including sunflower fields, pumpkin patch, family activities and corn maze.

“We’re an outdoor venue, so we believe with everything going on, Bloomsbury Farm is a safe place to be,” she said. “We recommend staff wear masks in our gift shop and where social distancing isn’t possible. For guests we welcome all comfort levels as far as face coverings.”

Some Halloween activities change

Not every Halloween activity is happening this year. Organizers canceled the annual Haunted Halloween Ball at the DoubleTree in downtown Cedar Rapids. Peter Durin, who has organized a parade in the NewBo neighborhood the last few years, called the parade off this year.

However, he’s planning a different event instead: “A Haunting on Hawkeye Downs” will be a drive-in movie night on Oct. 24 at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids.

The night will feature two movie screenings, “Hocus Pocus” at 7 p.m. and “Van Helsing” at 9 p.m., along with a car decorating contest — people are encouraged to decorate their cars as spaceships or with an alien theme — and other activities.

“I will absolutely lose my mind if, when I’m up on stage, I see a field of space cars,” Durin said. “I’m hoping the city has a ton of space cars driving around Cedar Rapids.”

People will be able to sit outside their cars, but he said social distancing will be enforced. The event will be free, with a $10 donation per car encouraged, to raise money for the Iowa Derecho Response fund. Durin said the Terry-Durin company is sponsoring the event, and they are seeking additional sponsors.

At NewBo City Market, an annual screening of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” is expanding to two days and selling tables rather than individual seats, to ensure social distancing. Hosted by Alisabeth Von Presley, the movie will screen Oct. 23 and 24; tickets are at Eventbrite.

Derecho was a blow

In addition to COVID-19, farms are dealing with the aftermath of the Aug. 10 derecho.

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Brenna Bass, co-owner of Bass Farms in Mount Vernon, said the storm hit them hard, destroying one greenhouse and damaging another, flattening their sunflower field and mangling signage and things like their gazebo and giant white chairs people would take photos in. They lost much of their tomato crop when their irrigation system didn’t work during the extended power outage.

She said they’ve also seen business in their farm store drop since Palisades Park has remained closed due to derecho damage. The entrance to the state park is directly across Highway 1 from their farm.

However, they have added a newly redone 18 hole mini-golf course and are planning to unveil glow-in-the-dark night games in October.

To adapt to the pandemic, they’ve done things like eliminating activities like bouncy houses and hayrack rides, as well as spreading out the rest of their activities into a parking area to allow for more social distancing and installing hand washing stations. She said staff are required to wear masks and guests are encouraged to wear face masks.

“I think people still want to create memories, go to a pumpkin patch, have fun,” she said. “As long as people follow the guidelines and are safe, we still want to have them out ... We’re just having to be more creative with how we produce the fun this year.”

At Bloomsbury Farm, Petersen said the storm initially flattened their corn mazes, but the plants have since recovered. The sunflowers at Colony Pumpkin Patch also proved resilient.

“A lot of sunflowers got blown over, but they popped back up — or stems started growing off the main, laid down stems,” Katie Colony said. “They persevered even though they are knocked down a little bit. They can withstand the storm and yet keep going, just like the rest of us.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

If you go

l What: Bass Farms

l Where: 840 Bass Lane, Mount Vernon

l When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sunday through Oct. 31. Store open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday.

l Details: (319) 895-6480, bassfarms.org

l What: Bloomsbury Farm

l Where: 3260 69th St., Atkins

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l When: Farm open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday to Sunday through Oct. 31. Scream Acres open Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 16 to 31

l Details: (319) 446-7667, bloomsburyfarm.com

l What: Circle of Ash

l Where: Linn County Fairgrounds, 201 Central City Rd., Central City

l When: 8 p.m. to midnight, Fridays and Saturdays, Sept. 25 to Oct. 31, and Oct. 25 and 29

l Details: circleofash.com

l What: Colony Pumpkin Patch

l Where: 2780 Front St. NE, North Liberty

l When: 4 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Oct. 31

l Details: (319) 626-6091, colonypumpkinpatch.com

l What: A Haunting at Hawkeye Downs

l Where: Hawkeye Downs, 4400 Sixth St. SW, Cedar Rapids

l When: Doors open 5:30 p.m. Oct. 24

l Details: facebook.com/hawkeyedownscr

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